Joe Straus, Voice of Moderation in Texas Legislature, Won't Seek Re-Election

House speaker doesn't rule out future run for governor

After months of contention with extremist Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, long-serving Republican House Speaker Joe Straus surprised observers today when he announced he would not seek re-election for a sixth term.

His departure means the Texas Legislature has lost a much needed and increasingly rare voice of moderation in a leadership role amid growing conservative fanaticism.

House Speaker Joe Straus (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The San Antonio Republican, first elected to his district in 2005 and then as House Speaker in 2009, was re-elected to the role five times with bipartisan support; he plans to carry out his current term. In a Facebook post announcing he would step down, Straus wrote: “Those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime.” Noting how it’s been decades since a speaker left his office on his own terms, Straus conceded the move was “unexpected.” He expressed confidence in his accomplishments as speaker, including strides in K-12 and higher education, water, and mental health care. While remaining vague about future plans, Straus did sound eager at the prospect of now having a “greater opportunity” to express his own views and priorities, and his ability to continue to “work for a Republican Party that tries to bring Texans together instead of pulling us apart” – a jab at the divisive infighting among right-wing Republicans and their more moderate counterparts.

Despite his enduring bipartisan popularity, Straus butted heads with Patrick and Abbott throughout the most recent legislative session, notably on school vouchers and the anti-LGBTQ bathroom bill, which he deemed unnecessary. While conservative factions have continually attempted to prevent his re-election (without any success), this session Straus faced even more unified and intense heat from the right-wing Freedom Caucus, whose members today celebrated his future absence with glee. Straus wasn’t shy touting his record of civility, and not-so-subtly criticized the right-wing GOP’s increased hostility toward progress and diversity:

“Even as politics has become more tribal and divisive, I’ve led by bringing people together and working across party lines. We’ve fallen short at times. But on our best days, we have shown that there is still a place for civility and statesmanship in American politics,” he wrote. “...Our party should be dynamic and forward-thinking, and it should appeal to our diverse population with an optimistic vision that embraces the future. I plan to be a voice for Texans who want a more constructive and unifying approach to our challenges, from the White House on down.”

During a Capitol press conference on Wednesday morning, Straus reiterated his excitement to “speak his mind” more and step aside after years of service. “A confident leader knows when it’s time to give it back,” Straus told reporters. He chastised some Republicans for allowing “emotions and tempers to get the best of them,” and knocked the Freedom Caucus: Its members don’t fit the “profile of leadership that I support," he said, yet he stopped short of assigning blame to them or Patrick for his decision to depart. (Although, it seems hardly a coincidence that Straus has picked the lull after one of the most combative recent legislative sessions to announce a retirement.) During his brief appearance with the press, Straus didn’t rule out a possible run for higher office – including governor – after he serves his remaining 14 months as speaker.

“I’m not one to close doors,” said Straus. “Some people have suggested [running for governor]. But what's in the future for me, I don't know.”

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